“Come see for yourself,” he challenged.
Tevye set down the reins of the wagon.
“Abba, don’t,” Hodel pleaded.
But Tevye was determined. He had waited a long time for a chance to wipe the smug grin off of his son-in-law’s face. While it was a very grave sin to hit a fellow Jew, Perchik was an exception. Didn’t it say in the Passover Seder that the fourth son, the scoffer, was to be given a smash in his teeth? With a smile, Tevye stripped off his jacket. Perchik was equally pleased. For him it was a chance to knock the yarmulka off his father-in-law’s thick, empty skull. Thrusting one leg forward, he raised both his fists in a statuesque stance.
“Be careful, father,” Hodel warned. “Perchik learned boxing at the university.”
“University shmurniversity,” Tevye said. “I’ll teach him a lesson he will never forget.”
“Come on then, old man,” Perchik called. You might have robbed your wife’s cradle, but I won’t let you rob mine.”
Angered, Tevye lunged forward with the first punch of the fight. Deftly, Perchik dodged to the side. Stumbling from the momentum, Tevye tumbled to the ground. Perchik chuckled as the older man rose and brushed the dust off his clothes.
“Go home, grandpa, before it’s too late,” Perchik teased.
“If you touch him, I’ll never speak to you again,” Hodel warned.
“If you thought I would let you take away my son, you were wrong,” he answered.
Again Tevye lunged. This time, Perchik stepped aside while delivering a blow. The punch caught Tevye in the forehead, and he fell once again to the ground with a groan.
“Stop now, dirty old man, and go home to your black, cushy wife,” Perchik told him.
Tevye stood up and growled. “You dog!” he said and spit. His temple was bleeding. He took a threatening step toward Perchik, but the younger man shot out a fist before Tevye could get his feet planted. The jab was stiff and stinging. Tevye’s beard helped soften the blow, but before he could defend himself, another jab landed painfully on his nose. Blood splattered over his clothes.
“Perchik stop!” Hodel pleaded.
Her plea went ignored. Perchik was having too good a time. His next punch was a surprise uppercut to Tevye’s belly. The milkman doubled over with a nauseated groan. Perchik merely had to give him a push to topple him onto the ground. Tevye lay moaning.
“Nu, Tevye?” Perchik jeered. “Where’s your God now?”
Hodel climbed down from the wagon and hurried over to her father, holding her baby with one arm and lifting Tevye with the other. Mocking a milkman was one thing, but mocking the Lord was another. With the fury of a bear, Tevye pushed her away. Perchik was still laughing. With a roar that rang out to Heaven, Tevye grabbed Perchik’s shoulders and gave him a powerful butt with his head. Then he booted him square in the groin with his knee. The socialist’s mouth opened wide, but for once in his life, he had nothing to say. He doubled over in agony. Before he could straighten back up, Tevye lifted him in the air and hoisted him over his head as if he were a sack of potatoes. Taking a few strides forward, Tevye threw him over the fence of the pigpen. Squealing, the hogs scattered as Perchik landed with a splash in their muck. He lay flat on his back without moving. Hodel instinctively started toward him, but her father held out a hand to stop her.
“Leave him. That’s where he belongs.”
“Maybe he’s hurt.”
“You decide,” Tevye said. “Either you come with me now, or you spend the rest of your life with this swine you call a husband.”
Tevye picked up his jacket from the ground and climbed up into his wagon. He wiped his bleeding nose with his sleeve and lifted the reins. Hodel stared at her husband. A pig came over and licked at his face. His hands and legs twitched. Regaining consciousness, he squirmed in the mud. Tevye drew the wagon alongside her.
“If he ever matures and becomes a mensch, he’ll know where to find you,” Tevye said.
Hodel knew that her father was right. Maybe this would teach Perchik a lesson. Of course she still loved him, but she wanted to bring up her baby in the way she thought best, and she could never do that in Shoshana. Reaching out, she took her father’s outstretched hand. Tevye helped her up into the wagon beside him. Then he flicked the reins and pointed his horse toward the gate.